Kidnapping Raises Fears in Philippines

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ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - In southern Philippines, Abu Sayyaf terrorists linked to al Qaeda have again stepped up their kidnapping-for-ransom activities.

They're targeting Christians and authorities are worried it's becoming a lucrative industry in the area.

Rodel (not his real name) requested anonymity for security reasons.  He relays how Christian shop keeper Doroteo Gonzales, was dragged out of his store at gunpoint and was abducted by five armed men. After barely three weeks, his kidnappers who identified themselves as members of the Abu Sayyaf group, beheaded gonzales after his family failed to pay the $10,600 ransom.

Gonzales' sister is shocked at the barbaric act done to her brother.  We call her Delores to protect her identity.

"He was like our father. He gave us rice when we had nothing to cook," she said.  "Now he is dead and we who are left behind continue to live in fear."

This used to be a very peaceful place, but the horrible fate of Doroteo Gonzales has sown so much fear and terror among his neighbors so that at nightfall, all the people here evacuate from their homes to sleep in houses along the highway.  No one knows up to when they have to go through this ordeal but to them what is important is for their families to stay together and be safe.

But there are those like Rodel who have been harmed by the threats of the Abu Sayyaf.  A few days ago, his nine-month-old son died of sickness because he was exposed to the rain each time they evacuated.

"The Abu Sayyaf continue to terrorize us but what can we do?" he asked.  "We are so hurt with what is happening.  We just pray that God will help us."

A week later, the same terrorist group that held Gonzales, released three teachers after four months of captivity.

Philippine President Arroyo visited the city and met with the teachers.  Allegations surfaced that  $6,000 had been paid to the kidnappers, but  Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat denied those claims.

"The crisis management of Zamboanga did not pay any ransom," he said.  "It's negotiation, divine providence that played an important part and pressure."

But despite an ongoing military crackdown in the area, the kidnappings where Christians are targeted continue.  And authorities say it's because the kidnap-for-ransom group is highly organized.

"Since they cannot do their activities in the city because they are run after by intelligence groups, they lure the kidnap victim and bring them to the trap," explained Police Superintendent Jose Gucela.  "And that's when they are kidnapped and brought to the hinterlands of Basilan and Jolo."

The government is hoping development interventions like this port expansion will bring jobs to the people that may help discourage them from joining al Qaeda-linked terror groups like the Abu Sayyaf.

Recently, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates vowed broader support for training and equipping the Philippine military in its battle against the Islamic militants.  The U.S. and the Philippines are partners in pacific regional security.

Meanwhile, hopes are high for the immediate release of other kidnap victims- including three teachers and an Italian red cross worker still held by the Abu Sayyaf.

*Originally aired June 19, 2009

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Lucille Talusan

Lucille Talusan

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